Sense of scent or the simple act of breathing

“At no other time (than autumn) does the earth let itself be
inhaled in one smell, the ripe earth;
in a smell that is in no way inferior to the smell of the sea,
bitter where it borders on taste, and more honeysweet where
you feel it touching the first sounds.
Containing depth within itself, darkness, something of the grave almost.”

Rainer Maria Rilke

“Odors have a power of persuasion stronger than that of words,
appearances, emotions, or will.
The persuasive power of an odor cannot be fended off,
it enters into us like breath into our lungs, it fills us up,
imbues us totally. There is no remedy for it.”

Patrick Süskind


(perfume bottles on a silver tray / Julie Cook / 2014)

(I found this little nugget from 2014 and thought it worth repeating…)

Opening the door I immediately smelled March.
But this is November, how does one smell March in November?
It was the humid damp warmth mixed with the grey sky.
More mild than cool, more heavy then light.
Not sweetness but rather warm dampness–but not so warm that it was enveloping.

Not long ago, I randomly bought a jar of facial night cream by Lancome.
When I first opened the jar, in order to use it,
I immediately smelled my grandmother, Nany.

Not in that sickeningly sweet grandmother smell that borders on cheap perfume,
hair permanents, and medicine, but rather the smell of sudden nearness.
It is a palpable longing for someone who has been gone for what seems forever.

I am five, standing in her bathroom.
I’m at the vanity on the right standing by my cousin as we are
readying for bed during a tiny special spend the night party–
a grandmother and both of her granddaughters.
It was as if I was actually standing in that bathroom as the memory
was so strong.
Not only did I smell the smells,
I even saw the captured moment frozen in time in my mind.
The white cabinets, the double sinks…

Opening my eyes, it’s just me, standing in my own bathroom, alone.

On a recent trip to Target, I wandered down the candle aisle.
Picking up a candle, I give it a good sniff,
I close my eyes as I draw in the warm scent.
Immediatley I am transported, as if by magic,
to a candle store at the mall near where I grew up. It’s the early 70’s.
I’m a young teen who is wandering around the mall as I walk into a
new store that sells candles.
On a round brown table in the center of the store,
I notice a small candle in the shape of a little red convertible VW bug with a blue top.
At the time, my dad had a blue bug.
I loved the smell, sweet and light,
being drawn to the fact that it was a cute little VW bug–
I made the purchase, proudly adding the little candle to
the growing eclectic treasures of a teenager’s room.

Opening my eyes, it’s just me, standing on the candle aisle in a Target, alone.

I recently bought a bag of mothballs,
not even knowing if they still made those things.
I had brought home a box of old papers and what-nots from Dad’s.
I wanted to preserve what was in the box but there was no telling
of the minuscule critters that were already doing damage
to the yellowing papers and books.
I thought that when I repacked the “archives” in a new plastic bin,
a few moth balls thrown in might ward off any unsuspecting and unseen nibblers.

When I opened the sack of moth balls I was no longer standing
in my son’s old room but rather I was crouched in my grandmother Mimi’s closet,
my mom’s mom.
Her house, in Atlanta, was built in the early 20’s.
It was old and she had a cavernous closet in her bedroom.
I was playing hide and seek.
Disappearing deep into her closet, pushing past clothes,
shoes and boxes, all the way to a back corner,
I’m now consumed with a smell, that to this day, reminds me of my grandmother.
Dotting the floor, the flat old light brown carpeting,
are a myriad of tiny white balls. Moth balls.
Moth balls will always smell like Mimi’s.
To most people the smell might repel, to me, it’s Mimi.

When I open my eyes, I’m no longer hiding in a closet at my grandmother’s,
but standing in my son’s old room, alone.

It is said that scent is most often considered the greatest of
our senses because of it’s exceedingly strong association with memory.
The olfactory bulb in the brain, the part of the brain which processes scents,
smells, odors, is linked to both the amygdala and the hippocampus,
the parts of the brain responsible of both the processing
of emotions as well learning.

The smells that we draw into our brain though the nose,
which are caught by the olfactory receptors,
allow our brain to process and then link the individual smell with
those initials smells from childhood,
the time we begin in earnest the association of events with smells.
Yet researchers have even determined that we are actually exposed
to scent while in utero, which is actually when the imprinting,
processing and associating of smell with memory begins.

It is often noted, particularly in Catholic teaching,
that there exists a “scent of sanctity”
It is a very real and very strong smell or odor of perfume,
specifically floral in nature, that emanates from “the saintly”
just prior to the time of death or immediately following.
It is said that those who have seen or sensed the presence of various
saints were first overcome by a powerful scent of “perfume.”

We know that the making of perfume dates back to early Egypt,
followed by both Greek and Roman cultures.
The use of perfumes and scented oils was essential to ancient Jewish
customs and rituals, in particular the burying of the dead.
There is biblical reference of the woman who came to the tomb to anoint
the dead body of Jesus.
There is the story of the woman, thought to be Mary Magdalene,
who had brought a very expensive perfumed oil in which to anoint Jesus.
It is a story symbolizing the future anointing of his crucified body
yet some believe it symbolized his bringing the grace of forgiveness
into an unforgiving world.
This is also one of the few stories which is included in all four gospels.

And so it is, on this March smelling November day,
that there is indeed a change in the air.
Rain is on the way, and with it the cold and the comforting fragrant balm
of crackling fires…
I can smell its presence in the air.
As the scent of change swirls about, dancing lightly in the wind,
those thoughts and memories of days gone by, gently drift,
sweetly woven to the very air which sustains my life,
waiting to be brought to the forethought of recall by the simple act of breathing…

But thanks be to God,
who always leads us as captives in Christ’s triumphal procession
and uses us to spread the aroma of the knowledge of him everywhere.
For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being
saved and those who are perishing.
To the one we are an aroma that brings death; to the other,
an aroma that brings life. And who is equal to such a task.

2 Corinthians 2: 14-16

when mothballs make me cry

“There’s a tear in my beer
Cause I’m cryin for you, dear
You are on my lonely mind”

Hank Williams


(a sack of bat deterrent, aka mothballs, Julie Cook / 2017)

When mothballs make me cry…

No, I’m not writing a new country song, not about mothballs anyway…
I’m literally talking about real mothballs.

You may recall that I’ve had problems before with bats wanting to roost under
the awning on my back deck…
and since this is where my cat Percy spends most of his daylight hours…
well, I can’t have bats hanging out where we and the cats hang out.

I tried stuffing dryer sheets up in their little crevices,
I tried squirting them with hornet spray…
I tried poking them with a broom…
but they kept coming back—

So I had a brilliant idea.
I’d hang up mothballs.

Well, I suppose I can’t take full credit, I think I read somewhere on
a critter catcher’s website that mothballs were a low tech deterrent.
I wanted to try something humane as I know and appreciate how beneficial bats
are in the yard and poking them with a broom just made them squeak at me and
spraying them with hornet spray is probably not
exactly good for them.

Back early in the Spring, I ventured to Home Depot and bought a box of mothballs.
Once home I hung up two bags on opposite ends of the deck, just under each corner
of the awning, where the bats had hunkered down to spend their days napping.


(my little neighbor who needed to move / Julie Cook / 2016)

Here it is late July and I’ve had nary a bat.
Conclusion….
the mothballs work.

Mothballs are meant to be in sealed-up containers where things like old books
or sweaters are stored as they are actually a pesticide for what else…
sweater eating moths and paper eating silverfish.

The smell is, well, toxic.
Hence why they’re suppose to be in bins and boxes and not necessarily
out for breathing.

But I figure we’re safe as I’ve hung the bags up high and downwind from where we sit.
and in just the right spot to fumigate the hiding nooks of bats.

Mothballs, like dry ice, dissipate over time when exposed to air.
So yesterday I noticed my little mothball sacks were now empty.
Meaning my mothballs had evaporated and I needed some refills.

Another trip to Home Depot and I returned ready to rehang bags of balls.

As I opened the box I was suddenly hit with an overwhelmingly pungent and
most familiar odor.

They say that scent, odor or smell is one of the most powerful triggers for memory.

Suddenly, I was a little girl rummaging back into the deep recesses of my
grandmother’s closet.
She had mothballs strewn all on the floor, in the way back, of her old cavernous
closet. I was immediately informed right fast not to touch the poisonous mothballs.
This being in the home where my mom and her sister Martha had grown up.
My mom and Martha.

Martha….

sigh…..

Seems I can’t even hang up some mothballs without remembering this heavy
heart of mine.


(Mother,the not so happy bride along with her not so happy 13 year old maid of honor..
seems Martha had been obnoxiously silly, embarrassing Mother the night before at the rehearsal dinner, so they weren’t speaking this otherwise joyous June day 1953…sisters….)

Time to que the country music…..

Lord, I’ve tried and I’ve tried
But my tears I can’t hide
You are on my lonely mind.
All these blues that I’ve found
Have really got me down
You are on my lonely mind

Hank Williams

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more,
neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore,
for the former things have passed away.

Revelation 21:4